Scott Morrison has appointed an unelected and secretive group of fossil fuel bosses to advise the government on how to ensure any economic recovery from the pandemic will prioritise profits.
Morrison announced the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) in March claiming it would solve problems sourcing protective equipment and ensure more testing. But this was window dressing. Its chair Neville Power admits that its role is to “provide advice to the government from a business and industry perspective”.
In July Morrison announced the NCCC would become a personal “advisory board to myself as PM” to work on the economic recovery. It would even “form part of the Cabinet deliberative processes”, he said, feeding into government decisions at the highest level.
Morrison has stacked the NCCC with executives and lobbyists from gas and mining.
Andrew Liveris is a board member of Saudi Aramco which is lobbying to exploit gas reserves in the Beetaloo Basin. And James Fazzino is a board member of APA Group which is lobbying to build a network of new gas pipelines. NCCC chair Neville Power is a former CEO of Fortescue Metals Group with shares worth $16 million.
As part of its move to being an advisory board the NCCC has been expanded and now includes former banking executive Mike Hirst and Transurban executive Samantha Hogg, as well as former union boss turned business consultant Paul Howes.
Power has repeatedly told the media the immediate agenda of the NCCC is to ensure businesses stay open. The results have been deadly.
In Victoria the virus spread from poorly trained low paid security guards at quarantine hotels to their families in the working-class west and north-west suburbs of Melbourne. Then to abattoirs, aged care facilities, and food distribution centres located nearby. Workers in these sectors are often causal with no sick leave entitlements.
According to Health Services Union national secretary Lloyd Williams “In every state and in every major outbreak in residential aged care the same workplace issues have been at play. People work across multiple sites and make the decision to go to work sometimes with minor symptoms because they’re trying to subsidise what is not a living wage.”
Labor and the unions are calling for a national scheme of paid pandemic leave to allow any worker to stay home if they have symptoms. Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus says, “paid pandemic leave costs are a drop in the ocean compared to ongoing lockdowns.”
But Morrison has refused. It has taken months for his government to offer a miserable one-off $1500 “disaster payment” for workers having to quarantine without paid leave. But it is only available in Victoria and the application process is difficult.
Morrison’s NCCC is part of a pro-business offensive that includes company tax cuts and slashing workers’ pay and conditions. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has pointed to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan arguing economic recovery requires workplace deregulation. This means further casualisation and the stripping of awards.
The offensive also includes winding back climate and renewables policies, suspending environmental protections, and fast-tracking fossil fuel projects. Energy Minister Angus Taylor says “I like to think of the other side of COVID-19 as being a gas-fired recovery”.
He has been busy redirecting hundreds of millions of dollars from renewable energy towards propping up aging coal-fired electricity generators and bankrolling unproven carbon capture and storage to enable more fossil fuel production.
The gas industry has a history of marketing itself as a clean and safe alternative to other fossil fuels. But although gas produces less carbon emissions than coal it still causes global heating. Morrison has tried to spin gas as a transition fuel between coal and renewables. But the billions of dollars being spent on gas are long term investments intended to maximise profits rather than transition to a carbon free economy.
Morrison’s focus on keeping businesses open and profits flowing has gone hand in hand with a hysterical campaign of social distance shaming, racist scapegoating, lockdowns, curfews, and the criminalisation of daily life.
For months cops have tried, and failed, to link black lives matter protests with COVID-19 outbreaks. This was science not luck. The virus is spread when people touch infected surfaces or remain in confined spaces for extended periods of time–like in workplaces. Neither occurs on a protest.
A year ago 300,000 people attended dozens of rallies against climate change including a magnificent 100,000 in Melbourne and 80,000 in Sydney. Striking school students united with trade union members to demand an end to fossil fuel production and a just transition to green jobs. The same politics and action are required now to beat back Morrison, the NCCC, and their rotten system.
By Michael Douglas